If I were to whack you over the head with a hammer, it would really hurt and then you may fall unconscious. However, when it comes to animal slaughter, this is viewed by many as the best method.
A perception has occurred that if an animal is “mechanically stunned” – gassed, hit with a captive bolt or electrocuted – then it feels no pain. In fact, many would have us believe the animal has drifted quietly to sleep in some kind, medicated manner, and everything is calm and peaceful.
In reality, this could not be further from the truth – even if you ignore the many instances where mechanical stunning goes wrong, causing further pain.
Shechita, the Jewish humane method of slaughter, has the unique ability to achieve an integral and irreversible stun and slaughter.
In an article for Jewish News, Stuart Rosen – scientific advisor for community-wide campaign Shechita UK – explains how this is achieved by “severing the anterior structures of the neck with a rapid transverse incision using a surgically sharp instrument”.
He continued: “This causes an immediate and dramatic fall in flow of blood through the parts of the brain that mediate sensation and immediate loss of consciousness and sensibility to pain.”
A perception has grown that mechanical stunning is compassionate and non-mechanical stunning is not, but this is far from the case.
Science has failed to produce any conclusive evidence that the animal feels pain or suffers during the shechita process. A number of studies have attempted to, but, as Dr Rosen explained, each had major flaws that would have precluded acceptance in higher level literature. He wrote: “This particularly applies to the electroencephalogram-based body of work from Massey University in the last few years – its methodology has recently been comprehensively discredited by an international panel of electrophysiologists.”
It is commonly argued, in religiously slaughtered animals, they will “perceive the aspiration of blood they breathe in before they lose consciousness” (a concern publicly voiced by BVA past-president John Blackwell). However, this is completely unfounded and is the result of flawed research that did not meet religious standards for slaughter and sensation, and was not independently tested.
Yet, it always seems to be stated as fact that animals will feel pain using this method. Few have properly looked at other methods, let alone analysed the many animals unfortunate enough to be mis-stunned when the mechanical process fails.
The debate around labelling raises further questions. Many critics often look to use labelling to further the myth religious slaughter is bad and mechanical stunning is good. If this was really about consumer information, they should be informed whether an animal has been mechanically stunned prior to slaughter and whether it has endured repeated stuns if the first attempt was ineffective.
They should also be told the method of slaughter – captive bolt shooting, gassing, electrocution by tongs or water, drowning or any of the other approved methods.
It would be interesting to know what consumers would choose when presented with a chicken that has been gassed or shackled upside down, electrocuted then immersed in scalding hot water – as is done with intensive factory slaughter methods – and one individually killed by traditional humane hand slaughter.
Fair, comprehensive and non-discriminatory labelling should be supported by faith communities and animal welfare groups alike. Simply saying “stunned” or “unstunned” would be neither fair, comprehensive nor non-discriminatory, since the shechita method does stun.
Comprehensive labelling would offer all consumers genuine choice, whether they are motivated by animal welfare, religious observance, or even intolerance of anyone who looks or worships differently to them.